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One common challenge that nearly all grassroots sports clubs struggle with is finding new volunteers to join the team – and then retaining them once they’ve started helping out.

Do you have many volunteers at your club? If not, it’s worth investing your time in improving both your internal and external recruitment strategies. Volunteers bring a wealth of benefits to a club, for example:

  • Extra staffing help around the club – whether that’s coaching or general help, such as administration and cleaning
  • Introducing people who are passionate about your club to the team – most people have a motive or reason for volunteering in the first place, such as being a current athlete or parent
  • Potentially expanding your staff base long-term – very often, volunteers go on to become permanent members of staff

So, you can see just why you should focus your efforts on encouraging and motivating volunteers to join – and stay at – your club. In this blog, we share six steps to improving your recruitment strategy. But first, let’s think about why they should join your club, over any others.

The five benefits your club can offer to volunteers

You need to offer existing and potential volunteers value for their time. Ultimately, they are helping you out completely free of charge. While some volunteers, such as parents, may be so passionate about your club they don’t expect anything back, others may start to feel undervalued. This could then lead to them leaving the team.

So, here are some ideas for benefits you can offer volunteers in return for their time, which will motivate current helpers, and also bring new volunteers in:

  •  Club-related perks, such as membership discounts, free entry to club events, and free club kit. This is something that Jennifer Hanna, Head Coach at Splitz Gymnastics Northern Ireland, told us has helped them in encouraging and motivating volunteers, ‘We supply our volunteers with tracksuits, fund their insurances and courses and make spaces available for their kids to train in classes’
  •  Personal development opportunities, such as training courses, as Jennifer mentioned. These don’t just need to be sports- or coaching-specific though; you could also offer things like first aid training
  •  Recognition for their help, for example awards given by your national governing body
  •  Programmes and development paths into paid employment at your club
  •  Flexibility – volunteers are not employed staff, and therefore may not be able to offer you the same level of commitment as your paid employees

These benefits cost you very little (and in some cases, nothing at all). Yet the little you do invest, financially, will certainly pay off. As we discussed, it’s possible your volunteers could later transition into permanent members of staff.

How to increase the number of volunteers at your club

Now you know about the benefits you should be offering volunteers, how can you go about boosting the number of volunteers joining and staying at your club?

Here are six steps to take:

1. Identify exactly what it is you require volunteers for

You may need volunteers solely for one-off events, such as marshalling and selling raffle tickets. Or, it could be that you need them to become a more permanent fixture in your club’s team structure. Once you have identified this requirement, it’s easier to plan how you will recruit and retain people.

Often, a volunteer’s role is viewed as sports-specific help – like assisting with running training sessions. But remember that there are many other roles they can help with too, such as advising the board, joining the fundraising committee, or cleaning the clubhouse.

Think about all of the areas involved in running your club that would benefit from volunteers’ help, then follow the remaining five steps below to recruit them.

2. Develop a volunteer recruitment programme

The next step is to work out who you will target to volunteer at your club, when you will target them, and how you will. When doing this, you need to create both an internal and external recruitment strategy.

You will have plenty of existing members, athletes and parents who would love to volunteer at your club. And in one of our previous blogs, Seven ways to attract and retain coaches at your grassroots club, we spoke to our community of club experts for advice on how to bring those existing stakeholders into volunteer/coaching positions. One of the recurring pieces of advice was to implement a Young Leaders programme to introduce athletes into the staffing team from an early age.

3. Partner with local community groups

As well as introducing your own athletes into volunteering, offer the opportunity to a wider group of young people by working with local community groups. For example, scouts or guides groups. You could also partner with local schools and colleges, or work with Active Partnerships to identify local and national partners.

Within a lot of these groups, young people are required to gain work experience – such as those undertaking a Duke of Edinburgh award. This is therefore the perfect opportunity for your club to build a relationship with these organisations, so that they can refer their participants to you when the time comes.

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4. Create clear job responsibilities for volunteers

Although unpaid, volunteering is still work. That means you need to ensure your volunteers have clear responsibilities, and that they know exactly what these are. If potential volunteers know from the outset what they are signing up for (i.e. how many hours they’ll be required to work each week, on which days, and what they will be doing), they are more likely to stay around.

However if they are surprised by suddenly being required more hours than they expected, or doing jobs they didn’t sign up for, they might not stick with your club for very long.

This is an easy step that only requires a little bit of planning time. It may sound obvious, but it’s one that can be forgotten about. As James Davenport, Chair of Kirkham Junior Football Club, told us, ‘We probably have lots of willing helpers, but they need to be managed and coordinated better…. that’s a job in itself to organise!’

5. Ensure volunteers feel part of the team

Volunteers also need to feel as though they’re valued members of the team. They’re no different to paid employees in that everyone is working together to achieve the same goals. And they can certainly help your club achieve its goals sooner.

One way to make them feel valued is to show your appreciation; ensuring they know how grateful you are for their support. Fred Johnson, Coach and Mentor at Recoil Trampoline Activity Centre, told us that’s an important method in motivating volunteers at his club, ‘Give them support and knowledge of trampolining [/your relevant sport]. Always say thank you, and make sure they know how much they are appreciated’.

6. Create marketing material that attracts volunteers

Finally, ensure you’re clearly communicating the benefits you offer to volunteers (that we discussed earlier) through your marketing material. That way, people are instantly aware of what they will get out of volunteering at your club.

This could include leaflets and posters that advertise your volunteering opportunities. The leaflets can be for internal recruitment use; handed to athletes and parents at the club. And the posters can be used for external recruitment; put up in the local community in places like schools.

As well as printed marketing material, consider digital marketing opportunities too. For example, share success stories on your website and social media accounts from people who started out as volunteers at your club, and have gone on to become successful coaches, or even run their own club.

It’s essential to make use of online communities on social media to spread the word about your club and your volunteering schemes. As Alex Row, LoveGymnastics Community Ambassador, shared with us, ‘We have found social media is a great way of motivating and encouraging volunteers. We can put a call out for new recruits for different areas we need at the club. Sometimes people even step forward offering other services.’

Volunteers bring a multitude of benefits to your club. But without a well-planned recruitment strategy, it’ll be difficult to attract and retain successfully. Hopefully, by following the six steps we outlined in this blog, you will have plenty of new recruits coming through your doors, and staying with your club for years to come. Good luck!

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